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Philip Roth, novelist and poet: born March 1933 in New Jersey.
Alice Munro, short-story writer: born (née Laidlaw) on 10 July 1931 in Canada; lives in Canada.
Chinua Achebe, novelist and poet: born 16 November 1930 in Nigeria; lives in New York City, NY, USA.
|To any writer who is working in the remote provinces of the world and may now be contemplating giving up his [only male? Ed.] room or selling his house and packing his baggage for London or New York I will say: Don't trouble to bring your message in person. Write it where you are, take it down that little dusty road to the village post office and send it! [p. 97]|
But will accept criticism:
|Having claimed and exercised the freedom to tell my own story, I recognize that I must stand ready for the full range of others' responses, be they favorable or unfavorable, well-informed or not. And even learn from them. [p. 54]|
Ismail Kadaré: born in Albanian (1936); living in France.
Ismail Kadaré receives a prize of £60,000. Kadaré will name a translator (or translators) to receive £15,000.
Ismail Kadaré uses an off-balancing style of sex and humor to tell how the Kanun blood feud emerges from the mountain people of Albania in the end of the twentieth century, a few years after the Communist regime falls, to a land that the gods have left.
The not entirely tongue-in-cheek proposal that the state take over the blood feuds may to some extent be already happening in the USA: "inserting the state into the system, the circle of revenge would be automatically squared. The family ... would claim its blood ... from the state. ... The state was accustomed to facing enemies. It could tolerate and maintain hostilities more easily than any clan."
Full of interesting ideas, such as the life of rumors, or different metaphors for immortality (p.64): "Some people think of it as an infinite number of particles spread around the body; others imagine it as a device that can be redirected toward the impossible; but most people see it as a key to some secret door."
Echoes Kafka, blending reality and dream and fantasy.
Bellos allows a few typos, which include (p.112 in the hard copy first North America edition) "he could make out a another language" (delete 'a ').
The book shows how myths can be created and manipulated for political purposes, and how capitalism has been a powerful for centuries.
After the European Crusades in 1291 and the straggle of European soldiers back from the middle east to their origins in Europe, the stage was set for a reverse invasion by the Ottomans (nowadays the Turks). A century later, after the winter of 1367, the financial battle for route control proceeded without most Europeans realizing they were being beaten.
Ismail Kadare tells us through the voice of an Albanian monk ("Gjon, the sonne of Gjorg Ukcama") how mysterious Eastern men with lots of money bought up the main dirt road at the Albanian border between Europe and Asia. These men convinced (by financial incentives) local lords to award them the rights to build guardable river bridges that replaced existing ferries, bridges that they would charge tolls for crossing. This would give the Ottomans control of movement between Asia and Europe.
Even before the capitalists with the money arrive, it appears to the narrator that they sent their forerunners to win the hearts and minds to win over the local people to thinking that a bridge would be a good idea. Specifically, an epileptic unknown to the village has a fit at the ferry, and a self-proclaimed truth-teller who interpreted the motion of the epileptic's limbs as suggesting that a bridge should be build.
After the bridge is partially built, some sabotage weakens its structure several times. This leads to further propaganda by revising an old myth. It begins this way. A quiet stranger (a representative of whoever is the puppet master of the road and bridge) says that he collects folk tales and customs. After several days he gets the priest to tell him stories. The priest finally tells about "A wall that demanded a sacrifice in order not to fall." In this case the myth is about the immurement (building of a person into a wall). In the original story, three brothers were masons building a wall that fell down each night. They sacrificed the wife of the youngest brother. "What was new ... was that the sacrifice was not connected with the outbreak of some war ... but concerned a wall, a work of construction. And this can perhaps be explained by the fact that the first inhabitants of these territories, the Pelasgians, were the first masons in the world, as the ancient Greek chronicles themselves admit."
The stranger leaves town at once, and some time after, some singers appear at the local inn with a song that tells that tale, but morphed. "It was not about three brothers building a castle wall, but about dozens of masons building a bridge. The bridge was built during the day and destroyed at night by the spirits of the water. It demanded a sacrifice. Let someone come who is willing to be sacrificed in the piers of the bridge, the bards sang. ... Clearly the ballad portended nothing but blood."
In addition to winning the hearts of the people through this ballad, the builders of the bridge published information of a reward that would be given "to the family of the man who would allow himself to be sacrificed in the bridge piers. ... this resembled a bizarre dream. This was something we had never heard of before, a kind of death with accounts, seals, and percentages. ... This business of calculated sacrifice confused me completely."
The prejudicial fear of the Turks is 'explained' thus: "These people are concealing a great deal. There is something deceitful in their smiles and courtesies. It is no accident that their silken garments, turbans, breeches, and robes have no straight edges. Their whole costume is insubstantial, and cut so that it changes its shape continuously. Among such diaphanous folds, it is hard to tell whether a hand is holding a knife or a flower. But after all, how can straightforwardness be expected from a people who hide their very origins: their women?"
Kadare claims that the Albanians are one of the first nations of the area, and expresses fear that the people and their language will be overrun: when he writes that the "Albanians, together with the ancient Greeks, are the oldest people in the Balkans ... since time immemorial. ... The Slavs ... arrived from the steppes of the east no more than three or four centuries ago. ... The Albanian language ... is contemporary with if not older than Greek, and that this ... was proved by the words that Greeks had borrowed from our tongue. ... Now the Ottoman language is casting its shadow over both our languages, Greek and Albanian, like a black cloud. ... 'Wars between languages are no less fateful than wars between men.'"
But eventually a man is immured in the bridge, though we never learn if it was by his own choice. The priest sees the forward movement of the Ottoman, and sees a harsh time coming. "I should ... complete my chronicle ... as soon as possible ... because times are black; soon night may fall, it will be too later for everything, and we may pay with our lives for writing such testimonies. ... This chronicle, like the bridge itself, may demand a sacrifice, and that sacrifice can be none other than myself, I Gjon, the sonne of Gjorg Ukcama."
In this intense and somber book, Ismail Kadaré juxtaposes a modern couple with the Kanun blood feud in the mountain people of Albania. Gradually they realize that this ancient custom is not a romance but a vast and terrible tradition.
This book was hard to read, and lacks the accessibility of my favorite book by Ismail Kadaré, The Three-Arched Bridge.
Among the Albanian terms used are:
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